A tribute to Mary

A courageous woman who rose from obscurity to an acclaimed national respect has passed away.

I am sure that when 45 years ago the young woman from Sliema – Mary Sciberras – married the young village lawyer from Birkirkara by the name of Eddie Fenech Adami, she did not have the foggiest idea of what fate had in store for her. Yet when push came to shove, she rose to the occasion and did what her duty called her to do – for her family, for her husband, for her country.

I first met Mary Fenech Adami on one of those days that Eddie had to appear on television in a political broadcast according to a schedule prepared meticulously by the Broadcasting Authority. In those days, these broadcasts were the best – and only – link the Nationalist opposition had to the people and in Eddie, the PN had found the best communicator for the medium. Whether Eddie was made for TV or TV was made for him is a moot point: TV brought out the best of Eddie.

Eddie would stay at home all morning, preparing what he had to say and trying to guess what he would be asked by the media representing the other side. I and others who were to ask him the questions for our side – people like Louis Galea and Noel Buttigieg Scicluna – used to be there for the exercise with John Camilleri. When it was over and it was time for Eddie to gulp his pasta, Mary wouldn’t let us go home to eat before going to the television studio for the recording. She insisted we stayed and had lunch there – just increasing the amount of pasta to be thrown in the boiling water was no extra trouble for her, she explained.

Times and circumstances changed, first for the worse, then for the better. But she did not change. She managed to remain always true to herself, whether she was barging into the mob of vandals who attacked her home, her husband’s home, while she was out shopping or whether she was taking part in official events as the wife of the Leader of the Opposition, of the Prime Minister and of the President of the Republic.

The last time I had a long conversation with her, I and my family were guests of the President and his wife at San Anton Palace. They had heard that my son was going to carry on pursuing his medical studies in Glasgow and they wanted him to meet their son-in-law who had first-hand knowledge of the medical scene in Scotland, having studied in his chosen specialty there. The President’s wife was still the old Mary talking about her children’s families, her B’kara neighbourhood and the formalities of San Anton, which she shunned and avoided as much as possible.

Eddie, who as Prime Minister always insisted that the President should live at his official residence, had to bow his head to her will when he became President – even as the President’s wife, she still wanted to wake up in B’kara, do her shopping rounds and go to Church, interacting with the people who had gladly made her one of their own ever since on her marriage, she had moved from her family home in Sliema to the house of Eddie’s extended family in B’kara.

Yet she never missed a chance to observe and learn: at one point Mary was explaining to us how she could see so many Church belfries from different vantage points in San Anton Palace – just a matter-of-fact woman adorned with a lot of loyalty, intelligence, courage and a vivacious sense of humour.

Her passing away must be a very hard and difficult time for her husband and her family. May they manage their grief with the graciousness and serenity with which Mary took everything in her stride. And may she rest in peace

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